Beach of Passionate Love, 1950s

Original LIFE magazine caption: Modern Look is supplied by a pretty Chinese visitor from Singapore, Lydia Tai, once of Shanghai.

This photograph has been making the rounds on Tumblr for a couple of weeks. (I found it on a l’allure garconniere.) It seems clear that long-time LIFE magazine photographer Howard Sochurek took this and many other photos on the eastern coast of Malaysia in the 1950s – some sources give the publication date of these photos in 1951 but others say 1957. The beach was then called the Beach of Passionate Love (Pantai Cinta Berahi) but Malaysian officials changed the name to Moonlight Beach (Pantai Cahaya Bulan) to reduce the sexual connotations of the name.

The photos are undeniably beautiful but I’m interested in why the photos were taken. (I’ve learned to be more than a little suspicious of mainstream images of scantily clad women, particularly women of color in “exotic” settings. The last photo – and there are many like these in the series – in which a “native man” figures as scenic background also triggers an Orientalist red flag for me. For more on this, see Mimi’s “Background Color” posts here and here.)  In any case, I want to know more about the context of these photos. So this is a public request – if anyone has more information, please share!

Thanks to Cat’s sleuthing, we now know something more about the images. In an article in LIFE magazine (31 December 1951) called “Life Visits the Beach of Passionate Love,” the journalist writes of this beach:

In Malaya in these times the beach has a special charm, for Pantai Chinta Berahi is part of a small area which remains peaceful and happy in a country widely scarred by guerrilla warfare. The pictures on these and the following two pages record a recent week’s varied activities at the beach, and confirm the widely forgotten fact no people love pleasure more than Asians.

Also, my earlier question about the Orientalist discursive construction of these images seem to be answered by the juxtaposition of  images of Tai (green bathing suit) in her “modern look” with images of women in the “Malay Look” in “native dress.” In the visual language of sartorial Orientalism, “native dress” marks the (non-white) woman as inherently unmodern while the bathing suit signals a liberated and cosmopolitan femininity that is tacitly modern and Western.

More photos from this series below (note these images do not appear in the original article):

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6 Comments

Filed under (AD)DRESSING GENDER & SEXUALITY, FASHIONING RACE, FASHIONING THE HUMAN

6 responses to “Beach of Passionate Love, 1950s

  1. cat

    i think our context might just be the december 31, 1951 edition of life. the entire issue focuses on asia, and the photos seem like extra shots from a spread on malaysian life on the beach. i haven’t looked through the whole thing to figure out how i feel about it, but there is for sure an asian lady with kimono and parasol on the cover: http://books.google.com/books?id=uFQEAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

    the beach stuff starts around page 84.

  2. wow. thanks for this. i’m glad you found the original source, as it completely changes the context. when i first saw the image i wondered if it was a recent image (looks like it was taken with sx-70 polaroid film to me, which was just recently discontinued), but didn’t do any digging to find out more before i reblogged it. i just spent 15 minutes skimming though the link that cat posted, and like her i’m not sure how i feel… i think you hit the nail on the head in regards to being wary of any

    it also reminds me of some old national geographics i have. one from the early 40s has an image of a young woman looking at a rock formation in some sort of cave in the U.S. and the caption read something like “never mind the pretty girl! look at that rock formation.” i can laugh at it today, and did when i found it in a thrift store years ago, but then i think about the entire context: how women are often posed in these scenic landscape settings and are hence objectified, how heteronormative/”male gaze” captions like those are, assuming that all people reading are hetero men, and so on and so forth. in this 1951 life magazine photoshoot, shot for american audiences, it is even more disturbing to think of what the intentions of the photographer/the magazine were.

    this is a bit of an off-topic rant, but: this entire situation illustrates my own frustrations with tumblr… killerbeesting posts this photo, without context, credit, a link to the original source, nothing. (now that i look back i see two of the 138 people who either reblogged or liked this image) where does the power of this image lie? to me, originally seen without the name of the photographer, without any sort of context, i imagined it was a photograph of a young couple in love, on vacation on a beach. i get the sense now that this is the desired effect, but rather for the Western viewer of 1951 to see this person and this country as desireable, attainable, conquerable… and it makes me feel uncomfortable, to say the least. how many images like this one circulate without context, without credit, in the belly of the tumblr beast? what long-lasting impacts will an image-sharing social media contraption like tumblr have on visual culture, and how we understand images? this a longtime conundrum of mine…

    last but not least, i think this entire post reinforces the importance and significance of a project like Of Another Fashion.

    • Tumblr definitely makes it easier to reproduce and recirculate images – it’s this feature that makes Tumblr both so appealing and so frustrating. The original context, the original image, the aura (a la Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”) are potentially lost in the reproduction. This is a criticism that follows every new media reproduction technology – the printing press and onward. So I don’t think this issue is unique to Tumblr, though I agree that the ease w/ which Tumbloggers can reproduce an image (just by the click of the “reblog” button) makes this a particularly big problem in Tumblr.

      At the same time, I do think Tumblr does some things quite well. Mostly, I like that it records a clickstream of reblogs and likes – you don’t get this on WordPress or Blogger – a record of the social life of the digital image. LOVE THAT. And on OF ANOTHER FASHION, I’ve successfully traced source information through the clickstream. That said, I want to underscore (and co-sign your sentiment of) the importance of users doing the necessary research to give proper credit to images and texts. Ironically, because of the interactive, searchable Internet (Web 2.0) it’s never been easier to track down this information.

      An aside – a few months ago, I discovered that a series of my blog posts on digital labor and the digital economy were artlessly pasted together by someone who turned in this crude digital stitch job as a student paper. Copying a couple of sentences into Google would have turned up the original posts within seconds. It’s both easy to plagiarize but just as easy to prove plagiarism. You gotta take the good with the bad. But in this case, I’d reverse Ice T’s aphorism. The problem isn’t with the game, it’s with the player.

  3. freaking orientalism at it’s best. this is not unlike the hundreds of beauty editorials fashion magazines still show today. ickkkkk.

    xo
    sami

  4. maaka

    kia ora
    at the close of the Vietnam war, and the secret war is Laos, I made my way thru south Thailand to Songkhla, and lived in a Buddhist temple, and at the end of the road was a white sandy ocean beach with a sign that said ‘ the beach of passionate love ‘. I have never forgotten that…are you sure your artist /photo man was in Malaya and not South Thailand…

  5. maaka

    as to my previous message…there might have been a border realignment between Thailand and Malaya after 1950, perhaps the beach was once Malaya territory, but is now Thai terriority..

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